Contraception, Encouragement, and Affirmation

Last week, Matthew Lee Anderson published an article through Christianity Today arguing that Churches Shouldn’t Push Contraceptives to Their Singles. I thought the post was thoughtful and interesting, and shared it with a few friends. It helped start a couple of helpful conversations, so there was merit at least in that outcome, if not the article itself. Continue reading Contraception, Encouragement, and Affirmation

Convenience and Reducing a Pregnancy

I stand resolute on my position on abortion: I do not believe abortion is a viable option. The sanctity of the life of the child is tantamount to making any health-related decision. There may be extreme cases where there is a certainty that a pregnancy will lead to the death of both the child and the mother (though I express my reservations about the possibility of ‘certainty’ in this situation). But the primary push ought to be for life itself. Continue reading Convenience and Reducing a Pregnancy

A Sack of Spin

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A recent article by Kevin Sack concerns pre-abortion ultrasounds, and whether they might or might-not affect a woman’s decision. But he wrote another article simultaneously–one about how only cold, cruel extremists insist that clinics provide ultrasounds.

Impressive. Sack’s article is composed of subtle, well-crafted infusion of bias, all neatly packaged into what I would think appears to most people as a typical, passably-objective piece of journalism.

But take a closer look at the article. Sack uses rhetorical devices to maintain a dual agenda throughout his article—one on a literal, journalistic level, and another on a persuasive, op-ed level. A careful read can reveal the devices Sack employs. After all, it’s one thing for someone to be a bad writer; but it’s a whole other, and more dangerous thing to be a bad reader.

1. Euphemism, or ‘Positive Expression’, and Dysphemisms, or ‘Sneaky Smack’

A euphemism isn’t always bad. I’m glad we say, ‘I’m going to use the restroom’ instead of a more graphic description of that room’s goings-on. All the same, in an article like Mr. Sack’s, euphemisms are used as a powerful form of rhetorical manipulation.

Here are a few examples:

‘abortion method’? Nope: “method of extraction
‘Young (or small) fetus’? Uh, no: “bean-size fetus”
‘Abortion Supporters’?  Nah: “Abortion rights advocates”

These are some fairly obvious examples of how words can be crafted with that ‘dual agenda’ I mentioned earlier. On a factual level, both ways of speaking—the ‘moderate’ and ‘euphemized’—convey the same information. But the euphemisms motivate substantially different responses by softening and/or abstracting language.

Dysphemisms are the opposite of euphemisms, and Sack’s article is loaded with these as well. Dysphemisms employ words to make something sound a lot worse than it is.

For example, Sack does not say that anti-abortion supporters hope sonograms will convince women to ‘carry their babies to term’ or ‘not have an abortion’. Instead, they are trying to get them to “preserve pregnancies.” As if abortion were so natural that a woman must make extra effort to ‘preserve’ her pregnancy…?

Some dysphemisms verge on also being ad hominem. Sack calls ultrasound advocates ‘anti-abortion strategists’. ‘Strategists’—brilliant choice. Consider the dictionary definition: “a person skilled in planning action or policy, esp. in war or politics.” With a single word, Sack throws the anti-abortion side into freezing cold category connotations of war and politics, perhaps the two worst human inventions in all history.

My favorite dysphemism, though, was when Sack was still talking about the woman ‘Laura’, and why she did not want to look at the ultrasound images. The image, Sack writes, “would only unleash…hormonal emotions.”  Oh, Mr. Sack, don’t you mean they would ‘activate maternal instinct’?

Another tip: also look for overarching euphemisms/dysphemisms. Sack maintains a subtle consistency in his references to pro-abortion and anti-abortion supporters. Pro-abortion supporters are ‘who’s’: they are personified groups or individuals. Anti-abortion, on the other hand, is referenced as ‘groups, which’ or the aforementioned ‘strategists’.

Be aware of euphemisms and dysphemisms. Receiving information is good, but don’t fall for the word play.

2. Ambiguity, That-Sometimes-Interesting-Thing

Take a look at the following sentence:

Because human features may barely be detectable during much of the first trimester, when 9 of 10 abortions are performed, some women find viewing the images reassuring.
Sack impresses me. That’s a golden amorphous sentence—I bet that nearly all readers finish it thinking, ‘Oh, first-trimester fetuses are just blobs and seeing them has no effect on women.’ And yet, Mr. Sack doesn’t make that claim–at least, not concretely. Instead, his statements are couched by terms like ‘may barely’ or ‘some’.

Ambiguity is not only is what is written, but largely also in what is not written. For example, Mr. Sack never directly comments on what type or quality of ultrasounds women are given in abortion clinics.

His article only contains two vague indications: the first occurs in the opening paragraph, which portrays a woman named Laura, about to have an abortion, staring “away from the grainy image on the screen.” Okay, so we know they are ‘grainy’. The second comes from a post-abortive woman named Tiesha, who Mr. Sack quotes as saying, “It [the 8-week old fetus] just looked like a little egg, and I couldn’t see arms or legs or a face.”

No wonder Mr. Sack chose to be ambiguous in the ‘human features’ sentence. Look up high-quality, 4-D ultrasound images 8-week old fetuses. I highly doubt Tiesha saw what you see in those images—a fetal image from the best ultrasound technology wouldn’t be confused with a ‘little egg’.

3. Emotional Appeal, aka ‘Feel Good—Agree with Me’

‘Appeal to emotion’ is a powerful tool, but it also happens to be a logical fallacy. The fallacy runs something like this: A is associated with B. B is associated with positive (or negative) emotions. Therefore, A is a good (or bad) thing.

Take Sack’s following sentence: “But a number of women at the Birmingham clinic, which was the site of a fatal bombing in 1998, said they simply did not want to subject themselves to images that might haunt them.” The bombing of the Birmingham clinic has nothing to do with the ultrasound discussion. However, all sorts of negative emotions towards anti-abortion supporters are wrapped up in any mention of anti-abortion violence. Likely, those emotional connotations will transfer onto the also anti-abortion, ultrasound advocates, even though the two aren’t actually  connected at all.

Sack also embeds a lot of emotional quotations into his article, particularly at the beginning and end. The article closes with an interviewee concluding that ultrasounds are “emotional torture.”

This recalls an earlier statement, made by the National Abortion Federation’s president. Laws, she says, that require ultrasound images be available to women who choose to view them “don’t respect women’s ability to make informed choices.”

Funny, that. I never knew that providing information was disrespecting someone’s ability to use information. Thank you for enlightening me, Ms. Saporta!

4. Appeal to Authority, Their Word is my Communiqué

A writer need resources and authorities when he/she writes an article, particularly a news article. But choosing those authorities has a huge impact on the spin of the piece. Are they objective? Are they knowledgeable? Do cited statistics come from credible sources?

Sack uses at least two authorities that seems to be fallacious: first, people who are either unknowledgeable or highly biased, and secondly, questionable statistics.

Let’s look at Sack’ interviewee list:
Laura: 36-year old post-abortive woman
Tiesha: 27-year-old post-abortive woman
Carmen: 28-year-old post-abortive woman
Diane Derzis: abortion clinic owner
Vicki Saporta: president of the National Abortion Federation
Linda Meek: director of Reproductive Services abortion clinic in Tulsa
Carrie Earll: spokeswoman from Focus on the Family
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For an article concerning abortion law and the boundaries of informed medical consent, Sack’s article has a startling lack of interviews with lawmakers or non-abortionist physicians. Also, the only voice on the pro-life side comes from Focus on the Family—undeniably, an organization with a pre-existing reputation among secular media, no matter or just or unjust that reputation may be.

Six of Sack’s seven interviews were with already pro-abortion advocates—once a reader notices that, the slant of the article begins to be recognizable. Another way to  reveal bias is to look at the source and type of cited statistics.

Sack writes:

In one of the few studies of the issue — there have been none in the United States — two abortion clinics in British Columbia found that 73 percent of patients wanted to see an image if offered the chance. Eighty-four percent of the 254 women who viewed sonograms said it did not make the experience more difficult, and none reversed her decision.
I was unable to find the source of this ‘study’. Where is Sack getting this information? And since when are two Canadian abortion clinics an adequate sample size or representation of all American abortion clinics?

Later in the article, Sack takes the report of an abortion clinic owner as an authority concerning ultrasound’s effectiveness or lack thereof. Again, Sack cites illegitimate statistical authority and inadequate sample size/representation.

Conclusion: Read Defensively

I know that here at Evangelical Outpost we often talk about ‘reading charitably’. And that’s true and good. All the same, reading a modern news piece on sensitive topics like abortion, health care, euthanasia, religion and other similar topics calls for a different method of reading than does reading other types of literature. Sack’s article could compel a blithe reader into, at best, opinion with strength unwarranted by the evidence and, at worst, pure uninformed belief. Read well, read defensively and seek out truth–it remains unmovable beneath any spin.

Logic, Anyone? (Part I)

The most common arguments for abortion rest on fallacious logic. This is not to say that every argument for abortion invokes faulty logic. However, in my experience traveling to many US college campuses and dialoging about abortion, studying abortion ethics at Oxford, and interning at the Yale Bioethics Center, this is the prevailing argument used in favor of abortion:

We agree that human persons should not be killed.
However, the unborn [qualify with developmental stage] is not a human person.
Therefore, the [human being not yet attained to personhood] does not have the same rights as a human person.

This line of thinking usually attributes the “right to life” in the rights attributed to human beings established as persons but not to the unborn “pre-person.” It carries emotional weight by pitting the being-who-has-not-yet-attained personhood (the embryo or fetus) against the rights of the being-who-has-obviously-attained-personhood (the mother). When it is thus framed, many people would argue that the non- or pre-person may morally be aborted.

It took a Yale professor to show me the flaw in this argument. Karen Lebacqz is a thirty-year bioethicist from Harvard who now teaches at the Graduate Theological Union and Yale. Her many contributions to the field include helping draft the internationally recognized Belmont Report.

Lebacqz introduced her “Methods in Bioethics” seminar this summer with a reprisal of basic logic. With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy tucked under my belt, I expected nothing new. When we began by reviewing this simple fallacy, I almost fell asleep:

Major Premise: Red apples are good to eat.
Minor Premise: This apple is green.
Conclusion: Therefore this apple is not good to eat.

This is the fallacy of the “Illicit Major,” in which the converse of the first statement is assumed to be true. I had spotted plenty of these fallacies while working on my undergraduate degree. Simple enough. But then we changed the terms:

Major Premise: Human persons should not be killed.
Minor Premise: The embryo/fetus is not a human person.
Conclusion: Therefore the embryo/fetus can be killed.

This is the same fallacy: the major term is undistributed in the major premise, but distributed in the conclusion. In other words, nothing has been said about non-persons, so we cannot draw a conclusion about whether we may kill it, at least not without making a fallacious argument. Simply assuming that an embryo/fetus is not a person does not grant us the right to terminate it. Additional arguments—and robust ones at that—are needed.

These additional arguments must state clearly and defend the hidden assumption that it is permissible to kill a non-person.

However, most people who use the above argument for abortion also argue that certain non-persons ought not be killed. While Lebacqz used the example of a redwood tree, I would point to the vast animal rights movement. I don’t think dolphins are persons, and I don’t think they ever will be. But I would do everything in my power to stop someone who threatened to shoot a dolphin.

Assume, then, that the unborn are not persons. But don’t think it is therefore obvious that abortion in all instances is morally acceptable. If a dolphin was growing inside my friend’s womb, I would do everything possible to convince her not to have an abortion. Only if her life was in danger would I drive her to an abortion provider (and I’d do that if it was a baby, too). While unborn babies are far more precious than dolphins for many reasons, this “hierarchy” has no bearing on the fallacious assumption that “we can obviously abort non-persons” operating as a hidden premise in this common argument for abortion. If abortion advocates want to persuade those who have taken logic, they will have to provide arguments that are much more robust—and logically valid. ‘

Taxing Tiny Tim: California Raises Taxes for Parents

In a bizarre twist that reminds one of Scrooge rather than Schwarzenegger, the state of California decided last spring to significantly reduce its dependent tax credit.  In other words, it just became even more difficult to raise future California tax payers.

California parents can no longer count on their little ones for the $309 per child tax credit they enjoyed in previous years; according to the state, each child is now worth a mere $99 credit.  This effectively raises a parent’s taxes by about $210 per child, per year, placing a significant burden on the large families that need this credit most.  This cut, which was buried in the massive budget package Governor Schwarzenegger signed in February, will be an unwelcome surprise to many parents.

It is no secret that California is in serious financial trouble.  Tax increases are inevitable; however, since the funds that California is attempting to raise through this tax increase will come from parents, one wonders why lawmakers continue to subsidize a very profitable organization that aims to prevent parenthood altogether.

Planned Parenthood receives millions of dollars from California taxpayers each year.  The organization claims that none of these dollars directly fund abortions; however, money is fungible.  The tax dollars Planned Parenthood receives for preventive care services enable it to devote other income to providing abortions, and thanks to the recent cuts in dependent tax credits, California will soon have more of those tax dollars to give out.

In the long term, higher taxes for parents will mean fewer California children.  As one blogger pointed out recently,

Economists have a rule: If you want more of something, subsidize it; and if you want less of something, tax it.

If California wants to encourage the growth of the next generation of voters and taxpayers, it’s going to have to stop penalizing parenthood – not because families have caused the current deficit, but because they are its best long-term solution.

Surprisingly, most pro-life, pro-family Conservative commentators have been slow to target the tax code’s anti-family bias.  Ramesh Ponnuru is a notable exception, but the McCain campaign’s tax policies indicated that Ponnuru’s recommendations have fallen on all-too-deaf ears.  It’s easy to rally around a perceived injustice, but difficult to do the harder work of real reform; in this case it seems it’s even difficult for commentators to suggest we do so.

The Right has an unfortunate tendency to present negative solutions to social problems when positive solutions would be both more effective and more attractive to potential detractors.  The current move to defund Planned Parenthood is a prime example of this tendency.  While many pro-life organizations are working to defund Planned Parenthood, few are focusing on viable alternative solutions that would help families with children who have already been born.  In their zeal for saving future families, pro-life activists have sometimes failed to help existing families thrive and expand.

While Planned Parenthood should certainly lose funding, households struggling to raise children should not; after all, parents raising children will frequently bear and raise more children if they have the economic means to do so.  Our social and economic success depends on stable families, and our laws and tax policies ought to reflect this fact.  Unfortunately, as California illustrates, they often penalize the parents whose children will be the source of tomorrow’s income.

Worse, our tax policies burden stable families while our welfare programs encourage single parenthood.  Readily available programs like WIC and Healthy Families do help women and children in one way, but also hurt them by making it easy for husbands and fathers to leave them, secure in the knowledge that the state will provide what they will not.  For many women the state is provider, protector, and enabler – all at the expense of the mothers and fathers whose children the state so desperately needs.

A comprehensive, long-term solution to California’s budget problems would involve both the removal of tax dollars from economically destructive organizations like Planned Parenthood and positive tax exemptions for those raising children.  Unfortunately, the pro-life movement has not always put enough emphasis on the positive side of this equation.  If pro-lifers want to win the hearts and minds of the citizens of California, they need to offer positive solutions to the social and economic problems that have usually been addressed through some form of negation.  California will have to do the same for its families if it hopes to solve its financial problems – as even Scrooge eventually realized. ‘

Instructions for Living Gently in a Violent World

Books that promise to radically change the way I see the world make me skeptical. Living Gently in a Violent World was no different, except insofar as that it actually did.

Living Gently is a release by InterVarsity Press in their ongoing series “Resources for Reconciliation,” which addresses an areas of life in need for reconciliation between theologians and practitioners on the one hand, and the Christian and ‘secular’ worlds on the other. In order to begin this process, each book is authored by an academic and a ‘field’ voice. In the case of Living Gently, the authors are Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, and Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theology at Duke Divinity School. Living Gently focuses on the way society, especially Western society, views and treats weakness, particularly the weakness within the disabled community. Vanier and Hauerwas use the L’Arche community—a network of homes in which people both with and without disabilities live together—as an example of their theology in action.

Their basic premise is this: every human person, disabled or not, carries a deep wound of loneliness. Vanier and Hauerwas say the binding for that wound can be found in healthy community, but that we cannot form those communities in our society until we learn how to see pain, disability, and weakness in a drastically new way.

For Hauerwas and Vanier, how we interact with the disabled, including the hierarchy that places them at the bottom of social pyramids, is connected to people’s varying capacity to hide their loneliness and insecurity. Those who cannot hide dependency well are considered ‘lesser’ than those who can. These pyramids result in a ‘compassion’ for the ‘lessers’ that ultimately kills them, e.g. the growing practice of aborting fetuses that test positive for Down syndrome. This occurs because hierarchy turns caring into curing, and the incurable makes us uncomfortable. Our ‘solution’ is to eradicate the source of that discomfort rather than question our social premises. Our compassion has manifested itself as a war: a silent, slippery imposition of a vision of ‘peace and prosperity’ where everyone is autonomous and whole. Pax America, anyone?

As Vanier puts it, Christian community is called to make a body out of the pyramids, and an ecumenical one at that. We are to love the disabled neither because they affirm our own ideology, nor because we will gain something by it, nor because it is ‘unjust’ that they are disabled and we can make it ‘right’. Rather, we love them because of their humanity: we see clearly in them the wound that disables us all.

Vanier and Hauerwas suggest that all people are essentially like Adam and Eve in the Garden, who knew their nakedness, were ashamed, and hid. We too know the vulnerability of our loneliness and build concealing walls of power, possessions, or feigned stability. People with disabilities are usually stripped of the ability to cower behind these facades. Thus, they become “privileged witnesses” of our fundamental cry to be loved and accepted by a physical, living community.

Vanier and Hauerwas’ book is appropriately challenging:  Can we learn to ask a person with disabilities to bear their cross as a living sacrifice for us all? And after learning to love them with visible wounds, can we learn to see the universal wound of loneliness behind the masks that most of us hoist? Can we see beautiful, stitched-up humanity inherent in a community without hierarchy?

For Vanier, such a community is based on three things: eating together, praying together, and celebrating together.  And at the core of such a community are relationships founded on caring for, rather than curing, one another.  As Hauerwas points out, the flu can be cured while the infected ‘person’ is maintained. But we cannot cure Down’s (at least at this point in time) without destroying the person.  We are instead to care.  As Hauerwas puts it, “There is no triumphalism in gentleness.” There is foot washing instead. There is freedom to love the unpopular and ungreat. There is space to love a God who “does not promise things will always work out right” in this fractured world. There is creation of mutual respect and love.

Living Gently in a Violent World offers readers a vivid vision of this gentle and merciful way of life as a community of broken and still-becoming individuals. And it’s not stretching the truth to claim you will see the world differently by the last page. ‘

Sebelius and Tiller: What could be worse? Plenty.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius won Senate Finance Committee approval today as she moves closer to becoming the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. The full Senate is expected to vote on her confirmation within the week.
Unfortunately, despite her tax indiscretions and questionable dealings with Kansas abortionist George Tiller, Sebelius faces little opposition in these final stages of the confirmation process. Even the historically pro-life Senator Brownback has chosen to support her nomination for admittedly political reasons.
The Health and Human Services Secretary position is one of the few cabinet seats in which one’s views on abortion are immediately relevant… and given her history, pro-life activists can be sure that a Secretary Sebelius will not make their work any easier.
Worse, it turns out that abortion isn’t the only health issue on which Sebelius holds alarming views:

Continue reading Sebelius and Tiller: What could be worse? Plenty.

Lenten Reflections

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the penitential season that helps us prepare for Easter. Not all Christians choose the celebrate this season, but I think we all agree that it’s important to take time to intentionally examine ourselves, recommit ourselves to prayer, and carefully reflect on Jesus’ life and ministry.
I was reminded when I read Shane Vander Hart’s post today that Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of the latest 40 Days for Life campaign. 40 Days for Life is an event which seeks to minister to unborn children, abortion providers, and parents through a time of focused prayer and fasting. I like that they take time to pray for all those affected by abortion, not just the mothers and children. It’s not too late for you to join them this season, and not too early to start planning for the next campaign later this year.
Lots of people are blogging their own reflections today (our own Matt Anderson is one!), but my favorite comes from Sarah, who points us to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (sorry, I don’t know offhand where this passage is from):

“That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace, on the other hand, is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must the asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.
Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

I hope you have a fruitful and blessed Lent!

The Invisible Abortion

For years, I’ve been involved in pro-life activities and organizations. The debate flies fast and furiously, and never ends. I’ve been considering this problem recently, especially in light of the vast amount of new dialogue FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act) has ignited, and had a few thoughts I’d like to put out for critique/consideration.
The arguments commonly used in the abortion debate, especially “in the field,” so to speak, are perhaps not the most useful. Not that they are “wrong,” but they jump mid-way into a much larger argument that requires fundamental assumptions.
From my experience in the pro-life field, here are a few arguments I commonly heard and used myself:
o “At the moment of conception, an embryo meets the scientific criteria for ‘life.'”
o “At 18 days after conception, heartbeat begins, and at 6 weeks, brainwaves.”
o “A baby has it’s own DNA, and therefore, is not ‘part of the woman’s body.'”
o “Roe v Wade is bad constitutional law.”
o “PAS (Post-Abortion Syndrome) ruins women’s lives.”
o “Quality of life is not an acceptable criteria for deeming a person’s right to live.”
o Etc. etc. etc.
These arguments are wonderful and should be universally known. However, the problem is that they aren’t really ‘arguments’–they’re facts. Thereby, they give pro-life supporters strict limitations in
1) Applicableness: the time when the human life as a human being exists is not answered by these facts.
“Heartbeat? Brainwaves? Certainly not conception…right? Because that would require a religious argument, and I’m not a Christian and I don’t want to hear your Christian arguments.”
2) Persuasion: dry facts are just that, dry facts.
Does anyone believe the “warning–may cause cancer” stickers on cigarettes make people who want to smoke reconsider? No, if people do not smoke for that reason, it’s almost always because they have experience with the truth, such as by knowing people who developed cancer by smoking.
We’re out there fighting a fact-war and all of us (pro-life and ‘pro-choice’) are simply dancing around the vital issues that all the facts are pointing towards.
A few of these issues are:
o Do human beings have a unique soul? (If they say ‘no,’ then that need to be your focus–the pro-life debate is meaningless.)
o If so, is this soul intrinsically valuable? That is, does a soul give the being (body/soul) invaluable worth that results in it being morally wrong to kill a being that has a human soul? (This question requires an admission of morality.)
o When does human life receive a soul? This is the question everything boils down to. Are there physical prerequisites for the existence of a soul in a body? Are there mental prerequisites?
I am still working myself on these questions, but I recognize now that they are the ones that need to be asked. Without them, the facts are meaningless.
We can waltz and tango all we’d like around the scientific definitions and psychological implications of abortion, but is it efficient for the pro-life cause?
Who builds a house from the roof down?